As expected, high-alcohol beer, wine and spirits will flow at Snowbird’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, after the state liquor board unanimously approved the ski resort’s request for a single-event permit.
Tuesday’s decision, approved by a 5-0 vote, puts to rest a month-long controversy that brought national publicity to the state and involved a special hearing with Utah lawmakers.
"It’s clear this is a valuable community event and there is tremendous support for it," board chairman David Gladwell said, adding that the board appreciated the discussion about single-event permits that had taken place over the past month.
"It’s useful to get that input, whether it’s negative or positive," he said.
Tom Jones, Snowbird’s senior vice president, was happy about the vote.
"We are appreciative that the commission understands the importance of Oktoberfest," he said.
The event, which runs Saturdays and Sundays from Aug. 16 through Oct. 12, began 42 years ago "with a couple of immigrants yodeling at the tram," Jones said, adding that it provides educational, cultural and artistic opportunities for the state.
The next step for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) will be to clarify the rule that governs single-event permits, which won’t be easy, said board member Jeff Wright.
The Legislature "wrote a very vague law and we have to figure it out," he said. "And there’s not one rule that can fit everyone."
The DABC’s advisory board, made up of restaurant, club and business owners, will start the discussion process during its next meeting in July, said DABC spokeswoman Vickie Ashby. Any recommendations that group makes would then be forwarded to the liquor board for consideration. Rule changes would then be open for public comment before final approval. The entire process will take at least three months, maybe more, she said.
In May, the state liquor commission sparked a frenzy after it told Snowbird officials that the resort might not receive a single-event permit for its annual German-style celebration.
The commission and staff at the DABC had begun using a stricter interpretation of state law when granting the single-event permits — namely favoring a "civic or community group that promoted a common good" over a for-profit business that already had other state liquor licenses.
The situation is an example of how complicated Utah’s liquor laws can be to interpret. Snowbird holds 19 state liquor licenses for all its restaurants and bars. Those licenses, however, would only allow beer that is 4 percent alcohol by weight (3.2 by volume) in the outdoor area where Oktoberfest is held. To serve stronger beer, wine or spirits, the resort needs a single-event permit.
The negative publicity created enough heartburn among some Utah lawmakers that last week members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee met with Sal Petilos, executive director of the DABC, and commission member John T. Nielsen to discuss the issue.
Nielsen told lawmakers that the liquor board would clarify the rules so the situation could be avoided in the future. While nonprofit status would be a consideration, he said, it would not the determining factor in granting special permits.
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